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Gold Coast, Australia, June 2013

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

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In June the family took a short holiday to the Gold Coast in Australia. Took the kids to Sea World and Movie World and whale watching. Not much for photo taking but the whales and the beach sunset on the first day were great.

During the whale watching we got to follow a few whales for almost 45 minutes, and we saw dolphins along side the whales and even a sea turtle. Unfortunately we didn’t see the whales breach but lots of surfacing for air – blow holes, humps and tails.

The beach was amazing, even in the southern winter the water was fairly warm – warmer than the air in fact. We played in the surf a lot, I think that Tori may have enjoyed the time at the beach better than anything else. The beach as Surfers Paradise — and in fact the whole town — reminded me of Gulf Shores and my granddads beach house when I was a kid. Wonderful shallow surf you could wade out in for a long way, sugar sand and all. It just had that small beach town feel, not like the mega tourist beach towns. I will have to take Tori and Livi back again just to play on the beach.

Tel Aviv, Israel, May 2013

Friday, October 18th, 2013

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I spent some time at work in Tel Aviv in May. Not much extra time for sightseeing or photography but I managed one evening walking along the beach. Israel seems to have amazing sunsets daily.

Prague, Czech Republic, November 2012

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

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I went to Prague for work. Just a few days for a conference, but I managed to slip out for an afternoon before the conference started and a morning before I flew off.

Prague is a beautiful city, and luckily the conference was in a hotel just outside the old town, so that even though I didn’t get much time I was able to walk around the most famous sites. It was an easy, 15 minute, walk from the hotel to old town square and the Astronomical Clock [wikipedia.org] — so hard to read, that’s why they had to put ‘normal’ clocks on both sides of it. When I stopped at the clock there were people talking wedding photos, and not just one couple, but several — one in a horse-drawn carriage and one in a fancy car. And then there was these girls sitting outside the old town hall [flickr.com] with their balloons looking sad, or maybe just exhausted.

A bit further from the hotel, down the cobblestone streets I visited Charles Bridge [wikipedia.org], unfortunately it was a hazy week and I was never able to get a good shot of Prague Castle [wikipedia.org] and St. Vitus Cathedral [wikipedia.org] up on the hill overlooking the bridge and river.

On the other side of the bridge I visited the Lennon Wall [wikipedia.org]. A colorful experience. The wall is interesting mostly in that it is an organic thing, not planned by anyone.

Later I made it up the hill to Prague Castle but only had time to see St. Vitus and take a few shots of Prague’s bridges over the Vltava River. The haze however was horrible, so the only shot that was really worth the hike up the hill was the one of St. Vitus, where the haze looks more like morning fog.

That was the extent of my sightseeing. I didn’t have time to really explore the old city’s sights and between jet lag, the conference and normal work I didn’t even get to go to any of the Jazz bars or pubs. The closest I got was a Pilsner with some of my coworkers one night in the hotel bar. Sad really.

Sydney, NSW, Australia, May 2012

Friday, July 6th, 2012

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I traveled to Sydney (first time to Australia, and first time significantly into the southern hemisphere — Jakarta hardly counts) for work. Didn’t spend much time outside the hotel and customer sites but we did visit Circular Quay one night. Also there was a strange angel alley behind my hotel… Click on the photo to see the full set on Flickr.

Northern Thailand, December 2011

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

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At the beginning of December I joined my wife’s family to northern Thailand; Chang Mai, Chang Rai and Mae Sai. It sounds more exciting that it was. Since it was a packaged tour it was more about shopping than any thing else really. The non-shopping things were mostly not something I would normally do — Elephant show, Monkey show, things like that. Given my stance on animals I would not have gone on this trip at all except that my wife’s whole family goes somewhere every year and we have never joined them. Now that Tori is old enough to go it was more for her than anything else.

The first day we started by visiting Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep [wikipedia.org]. While not the oldest or biggest temple it was at least a working temple and not just a tourist attraction. After the Wat we took a ride further into the hills to visit a Hmong village. Not much to the village mostly just people selling the same crafts and trinkets you could buy most places, only cheaper. They did have a display garden showing a lot of plants that were traditionally grown in the hills — most interesting of all was the small grove of heroin poppies; planted just to show the tourists how heroin is harvested.

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After lunch it was off to the factories; leather, semiprecious stones, paper umbrellas and honey. We didn’t buy much, first day is a bit too soon to spend money. And the factories were not really that interesting anyway.

The second day we visited the Hill Tribe Village, where we saw women from the Karen hill tribes; Long Neck Women are the most famous and the reason everyone goes but we saw a few different traditional outfits. The village is not run by the UN like some of the larger ones, which are really refugee camps. And apparently the UN has warned about the evils of the villages being run as tourist attractions. I don’t know, but the village was a bit sad. The older women seem to be OK or at least resigned to their fate and have not problem with having their photos taken, they will even pose in better places so the light is good. The younger women where more shy. They again the younger women had cell phones and I expect that they know those photos will end up on the internet. The second afternoon was all about not-so-wild animals. Elephants at Mae Taeng Elephant Park. Followed by Monkey and then snake shows and finally tigers (who I think were drugged, as people could pay to sit with the tigers and take photos.)

The third day started early as we joined another tour group and took a large bus to Chang Rai [wikipedia.org], The Golden Triangle and Mae Sai [wikipedia.org]. And on the way we stopped at a hot spring along the highway called Mae Khajan. Where you can buy and boil your own eggs in the hot spring, right after you soak your feet in a less hot part of the spring.

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The only stop in Chang Rai was Wat Rong Khun [wikipedia.org] also known as the White Temple. Rong Khun is modern but it’s stark white exterior is interesting, most Thai temples have a lot of gold but the only part of Rong Khun that is gold is the bathrooms. An interesting juxtaposition. The walls inside the temple are also decorated with all sorts of modern characters on one wall opposite he images of nirvana. All-in-all an interesting place.

The Golden Triangle on the other hand is a tourist trap. The term “Golden Triangle” used to refer to the area centered in Northern Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, so called, as I understand it, because the trade in Heroin was only done in gold. Anyway, these days the Thai tourism office has taken the name as it’s own to refer to the place where the Ruak River and the Mekong river come together forming the boarders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. The place is a total trap; just a collection of stalls selling tourist trinkets and bobbles. The government built a large gold buddha to server as the focal point of the shops and restaurants. And you can take a boat trip around the rivers to get close to all three countries. Myanmar’s boarder is dominated by a Thai owned casino and the Lao border is dominated by a Chinese owned casino. But you can’t get to those so easily.

You can however get to Don Sao Island, which is technically in Laos but since it is operated as a tourist trap by the Chinese who have leased all the land up and down the Lao side of the river you don’t need a visa to visit — you don’t even need to show your passport, just pay the toll. There is not much to see on Don Sao island, a few stalls selling things, mostly the same as on the Thai side of the river, but cheaper and some dirty Lao kids playing in between the stalls. Totally not worth the price of the boat ride since you don’t get a stamp in your passport.

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The final stop on the day trip was at Mae Sai. Mae Sai is the northern most point in Thailand, where you can (assuming you have the right visas) walk across a bridge into Myanmar. The size of the street market on the Thai side of the boarder is impressive, stall after stall selling everything you can imagine in a Southeast Asia street market.

On the last day while everyone else slept in I took a ride to one of the markets to see the monks making their rounds to collect offerings for food. I had expected to see the monks walking around and the people giving various offerings. What I saw instead was that the monks just stand around outside the market and people, as they leave the market, buy pre-packaged offering (rice, veggies and a lotus) to give the monks. This makes the whole process seem less exotic and more commercialized. I don’t know why I expected anything different but I did feel a bit disappointed in the end.

All-in-all it was an OK trip. Some interesting things, a lot of things I would not have gone too on my own, and Candice and Tori got to spend time with the extended family on that side. Which was the point. I was not that impressed with what I saw of Northern Thailand, but I guess I should reserve my judgment, maybe if you get off the packaged tour path you can see more really cool stuff.